Posts Tagged With: knowledge

2 Peter 1: Real Knowledge

Well, folks, we are on to the third last book of the year.  One more month and we will have met a great goal of reading through the New Testament this year.  The reading plan we are using takes us now to Peter’s second letter, out-of-order as we read 1 Peter a month ago or so.  I am sure they have put 2 Peter here because of its many connections to the book of Jude.  If you would like to review the short introduction the Petrine letters I wrote back when we came to 1 Peter, you can find that here.

What does it mean to know God?  What is real spiritual knowledge?  

As we will learn more about on Monday, there were false teachers in the churches Peter was addressing.  Most people identify these as early versions of Gnostics, Christians who mixed their Christianity with significant doses of Greek philosophy and mystical kind of thinking.  These dualists made a strong contrast between the flesh and the spirit and, given the emphasis in this chapter on moral purity, they often taught that one showed their spiritual strength by engaging in sin with the body so as to show that their spirits were pure enough to remain unaffected.  Gnostics spoke often of having “knowledge,” which for them meant an intellectual and spiritual understanding that allowed them to rise above the mundane matters of physical life.  These false teachers had definite ideas on what it meant to have “knowledge.”

But so did Peter.  As he uses the word “knowledge” five times in this opening chapter and refers to “truth” and the “mind” as well, we know Peter wanted to weigh in on what true “knowledge” is.  Knowledge gives us everything we need to live a godly life that runs away from the “corruption of lust” (1:3-4).  Knowledge is one element necessary in living a fruitful life, a partner to character traits like virtue, patience, self-control, faith, and love (1:5-8).  In short, for Peter “knowledge” is an embodied understanding and skill that allows its possessor to live an earthly, physical life in the nitty-gritty in a way that glorifies God and maintains a high level of moral quality.  Knowledge is as much about the hands as the head.  Knowledge is lived, not simply believed or thought.  Truth is a lived, physical reality.  That would be a definite contrast to Gnostic thinking.

God has bestowed upon us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue. (1:3)

What did you notice anew in this chapter?

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1 John 2: True Enlightenment

Knowledge is a bit intoxicating.  It is a powerful elixir that quickly convinces us we have it together much more than we really do.  Those drunk of the power of the mind are every bit as dangerous as those drunk on booze.

Knowledge was especially important to the early Gnostics that had been influencing the churches John was addressing.  As was pointed out yesterday, the name “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.”  This would appear to be your typical head-knowledge, the kind that satisfies if one simply knows the facts.  A good Gnostic “knew” the truth about reality: physical flesh is evil, and true enlightenment comes by developing a spirit that is impervious to the effects of physical sin.  The most “knowledgeable” one can wallow around in sin and come out unscathed.

However, John has a very different view:

This is how we are sure that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.  Anyone who says, “I know him,” but doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar.  People like that have no truth in them. . . . Anyone who says, “I am in the light,” while hating another family member, is still in darkness up to this very moment. (2:3-4, 9)

The kind of truth that John thinks is important is not simply head-knowledge.  It is not enough to know facts and believe things to be true or not true.  For John, truth is a lived reality.  Knowledge is first and foremost lived out in the nitty-gritty of life.  One shows their enlightenment by how they live, not how they think.  One can claim to have spiritual enlightenment, but if actions do not exist that support that claim, one is still living in immense spiritual darkness.  In particular, the selfless love of Christian community is the greatest testament to true enlightenment.  Honoring God with a life that keeps his righteous decrees for life shows true knowledge.  Knowledge teaches one to stay in the light with Jesus, not roll around in the darkness in sin.

When have you seen Christians today confused on what knowledge truly is?         

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BONUS: An Introduction to John’s Letters

Though never identified in the letters, the author of the Johannine letters is almost certainly the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John.  Based on writing style, there is good reason to think the writer of Revelation is a different John.  The John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John was one of the inner circle of apostles and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  Though he started his adult life a fisherman, he ends it as one of the pillars of the new, growing Christian church, a highly respected leader in the Ephesus area in particular.

“The Apostle John” by Rembrandt

The Johannine letters are likely some of the latest parts of the New Testament.  Some date John’s letters to the late 80s.  If this is correct, the first generation of those who had actually seen Jesus were dying and John was pure royalty.  Given that no specific recipients are mentioned in 1 John, the first epistle was likely a circular letter distributed among a diverse group of Christians, especially in Asia Minor around Ephesus.  Given the general nature of the teachings of the letter, that makes perfect sense.  Second and Third John are equally as general and universal.

Most scholars situate the Johannine letters in the context of Gnosticism.  This false version of Christianity really blossomed in the second century AD but it was likely an early version John was addressing.  Gnosticism taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good.  The fleshly body was wasting away and either an impediment to holiness or a temporary object of no consequence to be used and abused because only the soul really mattered.  Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge,” because the truly spiritually enlightened ones have a special knowledge that sets them apart from their more earthbound peers.  With these beliefs, a good Gnostic could not believe Jesus was fully human and flesh.  One version of Gnosticism called “doceticism” taught that Jesus only seemed to be flesh and another version called “Cerinthianism” taught that the man named Jesus gained his spiritual nature at baptism and lost it before he died.  We will hear John attacking this sort of thinking in his letters, 1 John especially.  As the flesh was evil, one was supposed to either deny his fleshly desires through asceticism (seen earlier in Colossians) or indulge the flesh in licentiousness.  This latter version seems to be the one John addresses.

John wrote 1 John to expose false teaching and counter any wrong thinking about Jesus that had cropped up.  As one of the last eyewitnesses of Jesus, John could testify that Jesus was indeed flesh.  John also believed that the libertine worldliness of pre-Gnostic Christianity was eroding the true Christian witness.  In 2 and 3 John, John encourages faithful Christians to extend hospitality to evangelists he would have sent out even if powerful, possibly-Gnostic leaders in his church opposed him.

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James 3: Doing Wisdom

When we think of wisdom, we usually think of the mind.  We might see wisdom as more practical and everyday than knowledge.  I once was taught this simple definition: wisdom is knowledge applied.  Still, in this way of thinking wisdom is a matter of the mind.

I am struck by how earthy and everyday James’ description of wisdom is in today’s passage:

Who is wise and discerning among you?  Such a person should, by their upright behavior, display their works in the humility of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and contention in your hearts, don’t boast and tell lies against the truth.  This isn’t the wisdom that comes from above. . . . The wisdom that comes from above is first holy, then, peaceful, gentle, compliant, filled with mercy and good fruits, unbiased, sincere.  (3:13-15a, 17)

Chock full of action words, James describes wisdom in 3:13-18 as much as a matter of the hands as a matter of the mind.  Much like faith and love in chapter 2, wisdom is what one does and does not do.  Wisdom is seen and identifiable.  As practical as it can be, wisdom is how we treat others.  It is behavioral.

What struck you from today’s chapter?

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Hebrews 5: Experience Required

Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  When he had been made complete and perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, since he has been designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (5:8-10)

Maybe it was because of the discussion I had with Umm Muhammad on yesterday’s post that I was especially drawn to these verses today.  Let me anticipate the questions: If Jesus is God, can God learn to obey (and does he need to)?  Was Jesus not already “complete and perfect” before the cross?  Are these verses somehow diminishing the moral quality of Jesus?

In his popular level commentary on Hebrews in the For Everyone series, N. T. Wright explains this passage using a story about a rich business owner and his son who has just graduated from college and is now ready to take his spot in the family business.  One might expect the father to place the son in a posh corner office with a high position and the pay grade to match.  But the father does not.  He puts the son at an entry-level position and has the son rise through the ranks learning the business as he goes.  As a result, when the son does rise to upper management he is a far better leader who understands his trade and his workers better.

Wright said it this way: blood made the man a son, but experience made him a boss.

"Christ in Gethsemane" by Michael O'Brien

Many scholars think the Hebrews author is thinking about Jesus’ Gethsemane experience when he or she writes this.  Jesus’ ultimate act of submission was to face the reality that within hours he would drink the cup of God’s wrath and to humbly accept this propitiatory role though he wished otherwise.  When he had “completed” the journey to that point or finished the course, he had arrived “perfectly” at the point of pure obedience.  Perfect in this context means everything was in place and nothing was lacking, not that Jesus was somehow imperfect or morally deficient before this point.  Furthermore, the Hebrew author emphasizes the point that obedience is a “learning” experience, even as it was for Jesus.  Through a lifetime as a human, Jesus was learning the ins and outs of obedience: that it truly is the best route; what it means to obey in a fallen world; what humans must face to faithfully obey; to feel the true temptation that comes with humanity but also the transformation that comes with obedience.  Can an omniscient God know these things?  That would seem logical.  So it seems the knowledge that comes through experience was still required, at least for Jesus.

To mimic Wright’s conclusion above, blood made Jesus a son, but experience made Jesus the perfect high priest.

Personally, I am ever so thankful that my Savior truly understands in the most intimate ways what my life is like.  That actually makes me love him and respect him all the more.

What caught your eye in this short chapter?

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Acts 16: Spiritual Discernment

Happy Valentine’s Day

I have always been drawn to the following passage:

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, since the holy spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them to do so. . . . Then a vision appeared to Paul in the night . . . When he saw the vision, at once we set about finding a way across to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the good news to them. (16:6-10)

I am convinced spiritual discernment is a huge topic I have neglected.  I think that is because I come to passages like this one and I leave confused.  I just can’t see my way forward into the topic.

How do we know the will of the Spirit?  How did Paul know the Spirit had forbidden them from going into Asia and Bithynia?  Was it that sixth-sense “knowing” that many of us feel at times, or was it something more?  Was this knowledge from a prophecy he had received?  The Macedonian Call came through a vision; was that how he discerned the stops on his journey?  Then we come to the word “concluding” in verse 10 and it seems some level of reason and deliberation was involved, but to what degree?

Some are sure that every whim and fancy is a message from God.  Others say God gave us a brain and expects us to use it, and the implication often is to use it to the exclusion of all other options.  I am convinced the way forward is somewhere between these extremes, as we see in this passage.  I would like to learn and experience more on this topic.

Do you have wisdom on this matter you can share?  

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